On the way back from Moscow, we took some more of a look around Kazakhstan via the convenient for stopover timed flights of Air Astana —
— thoroughly recommend it by the way; we noted that it routinely wins Best Central Asia And India Airline, but it was still rather better than we expected —
— and to start off our Astana stopover rented a car and headed out to the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, half of the World Heritage Site
Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan comprises two protected areas: Naurzum State Nature Reserve and Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve totalling 450,344 ha. It features wetlands of outstanding importance for migratory water birds, including globally threatened species, among them the extremely rare Siberian white crane, the Dalmatian pelican, Pallas’s fish eagle, to name but a few. These wetlands are key stopover points and crossroads on the Central Asian flyway of birds from Africa, Europe and South Asia to their breeding places in Western and Eastern Siberia. The 200,000 ha Central Asian steppe areas included in the property provide a valuable refuge for over half the species of the region’s steppe flora, a number of threatened bird species and the critically endangered Saiga antelope, formerly an abundant species much reduced by poaching. The property includes two groups of fresh and salt water lakes situated on a watershed between rivers flowing north to the Arctic and south into the Aral-Irtysh basin.
Well, that’s all very biological, yes. However, this site might very well take the prize for Least Visually Spectacular World Heritage Site Ever.
Here is the first indication you have that you’ve reached the reserve boundaries:
Note the perfectly flat background.
Now, let’s put that in its actual scale from the roadside:
Note how the background is still perfectly flat, inside and outside of the reserve being completely indistinguishable from each other, or in fact from any of the 100-odd kilometres we’ve passed from the outskirts of Astana to get here.
Moving further along, in time we find another sign with some more details:
Which is, again, in the middle of a 360 degree panorama of perfect flatness and utter lack of any distinguishing characteristic whatsoever.
Even further on, we find a sign which claims that there are, in fact, things that do live in this moonscape, which we were starting to seriously question;
however, none of them are around in late October.
If you persevere long enough, you will eventually wind up at the reserve headquarters:
which are, you guessed it, closed except in the summer.
Moral of the story: Whilst a winter drive out to Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve makes a pretty good story about how hard core you are about checking off every World Heritage Site! and all … if you want to actually do or see anything there, hold off until summer!